Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding told the Senate Education Committee this week that the state college system is in a crisis situation due to COVID-19. And to rebound, the system may have to take drastic action that could include permanently closing campuses.
Spaulding said the system was projecting a $4 million deficit before the pandemic. Now, it has had to refund room and board fees to students who are studying from home, as well as provide paid leave to campus employees. With an expected drop in enrollment for the fall, Spaulding says something has to give.
"We are looking at a reconfiguration..." Spaulding told senators. "How do we get smaller? Do we get smaller everywhere? Or do we reconfigure campuses? Or consolidate campuses? Those things are on the table. We will need to make a decision pretty soon about which direction we're gonna go."
Spaulding told Senators his first priority is to protect the Community College of Vermont. He also singled out Vermont Technical College as providing "in-demand and high-need programs."
"This is a new world, and I don't believe higher education's ever going back to the way it was," he said. "...We have to recognize that and have the courage to take action to ensure that the Vermont State Colleges System, as a corporation, has the ability to maintain and sustain our mission, which is to provide access to Vermonters across the state."
Spaulding said this year's operating deficit could reach $8.5 million. He said he has asked Gov. Phil Scott to consider giving some of the state's federal stimulus money that was earmarked for education to the state college system. He also asked senators on the call if higher education in Vermont might receive some of the $1.25 billion in federal stimulus funds coming to the state as a result of the CARES Act.